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Rwanda: Bloggers’ Reaction to Victoire Ingabire’s Trial

The trial of Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire resumed on Monday 5 September, 2011. An outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame’s leadership, Ingabire is accused of collaborating with terrorist organizations, forming an armed group with the aim of destabilizing the country. For seventeen years, Ingabire was exiled in the Netherlands but remained politically active among the Rwandan Diaspora.

She returned to Rwanda in January 2010 to run for the presidential election. However, she was unable to contest as her party was denied accreditation.

Victoire Ingabire, Rwandan politician and the Chairperson of the Unified Democratic Forces. Photo source: Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza for President Facebook page.

A few months prior to the elections, she was arrested and has been in detention since then. She was earlier arraigned in court in May but her trial was postponed to allow the defense to translate 2500 pages of documents used by the prosecutor from Kinyarwanda to English. She denies all the charges which she claims are politically motivated. Blogging at Democracy Watch, Susan Thomson bemoans the government’s interference with Ingabire’s prosecution and is concerned that the international community will remain silent:

Yet, on Twitter, the Government of Rwanda has declared victory in the case, stating that it (not the prosecution) has documents to prove her ties to ‘terrorist’ groups in the region, and thus her guilt. Nice to see the government being *this* transparent on its interference in the judicial system. I wonder what diplomats resident in Kigali might have to say on this. My guess is a muted response, particularly since President Kagame recently called international justice two-faced in reaction to the denial of visitors visas for several members of his delegation to France (or at least the timing of his reaction suggests as such). 

Since parts of the charges are based on a poorly defined genocide ideology law, Susan is skeptical that justice will be met:

What I think we are looking at is not justice, but rather fodder for Kagame's duplicitous actions vis-a-vis international criticism of his regime. Indeed, Ingabire's trial corresponds to continued demands from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others to revise and update the genocide ideology and ethnic divisionism laws. 

 

Victoire Ingabire in handcuffs. Photo source: Free-Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Facebook page.

On his part, Kigali blogger Sunny Ntayombya welcomes the trial, which he sees as an opportunity to silence international criticism. But he is almost convinced of Ingabire’s guilt:

I was getting tired of reading about her unfair imprisonment in ‘maximum security’ on the Internet. For too long she seemed like a victim that was being unfairly harassed by the State, but now that the case has begun, finally, people will have the opportunity to learn why she’s been in prison for almost a year now. 

Dismissing the criticism that Rwandan courts lack judicial independence, Sunny hopes that Ingabire’s trial will vindicate his opinion:

Various ‘experts’ in all things Rwandan had immediately deemed the charges “politically motivated” without even analyzing the merits of the case. Opening the case to the full scrutiny of the general public was a masterful stroke by the Judiciary because it will force people to acknowledge the facts of the case. I’m not saying that the judges will necessarily agree with the Prosecution, that is their prerogative; however, the Prosecution will be given the opportunity to state the facts as they see them. And the defense will be also given the opportunity to dismiss these facts. I think that it’s important that this judicial process be seen as transparent, not just for the benefit of our foreign detractors, but to the general public as well. They must feel that the process is free, fair and transparent. 

For Ambrose Nizeyimana, Victoire Ingabire is an icon of the struggle for democracy in Rwanda. Ambrose wants the British aid agency, DFID, to take a tougher stance against the Rwandan regime which he accuses of committing “despite an unspeakable record of crimes”:

The Rwandan government budget is today kept afloat with £83 millions from Britain each year. More than 50% of its budget is financed by donors despite an unspeakable record of crimes Paul Kagame is officially accused of by Spanish and French Judges, and UN through in its Mapping Report published on 1/10/10. Not reviewing and changing completely current approach of UK government towards recurrent abuses of human rights and freedom of speech by the Rwandan government look today as a sign of deplorable indifference for the thousands of Rwandan victims. While dictatorial regimes on the African continent are forced out for political change, it will positively be appreciated if the UK government disassociates itself immediately from regimes which are at the wrong side of African history. 

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